In today’s world, it is commonly acknowledged that brands must keep up with cultural trends, to the point that the reasons might seem self-evident. However, “culture” is not a thing; it is the sum total of habits, fears, emotions, and meanings of things in a large group of people; and because culture is grounded on people’s experiences and the social contexts in which they live, it is in constant flow and ever-changing.
What does this mean for brands? The answer is complicated, but in the following lines, I would like to show through a specific example how brands can benefit from better understanding how culture reflects people’s everyday lives.
BAMM recently worked with a global multi-billion-dollar sports brand that had a few years of spectacular growth, but whose sales stalled due to changes in consumer trends. To help this brand regain its momentum, BAMM designed and conducted a research project with a very simple goal: to know more about the brand’s core consumer to being able to align their business around them. In doing so, BAMM proposed that answering our simple question would provide insights on what drives people to consume sports products and services (both the brand’s products and its competitors’) in very different markets, and how the brand could use those insights to redirect their design and marketing strategy.
An approach to culture based on people’s experiences: an engine to drive brand momentum
For this project, we developed methodologies which allowed us to know more about what sports mean to the brand’s core users. “What role do sports play in their lives?” was an important question that helped us understand not just how culture drive purchases, but how personal paths or a desire for success in sports also affect brand loyalty and the connection between products and emotions.
Through sit-down interviews, we found out how these users relate to specific brands and sport products emotionally. We also followed these interviewees in their sporting activities to see what their sport routines look like, the things they pay attention to, what they don’t, the reasons they chose the clothes they did, and how all of these things play into the larger narrative of the person’s identity. All of this information allowed us to unearth important insights that pertain to both individuals and the culture they live in, such as the fact these users remember moments of sporting highs fondly and vividly, and that recognition counts more when it comes from fellow athletes (not brands). These insights allowed the brand to direct their messages in a more focused way, one that can be more impactful and can resonate more powerfully with their consumers.
By going through our interviewee’s sport clothes with them, we noticed clothing was not just about performance or looks. These pieces of clothing had stories embedded in them that users incorporated into their own identities. We found that they expect their clothes to play a part in their hopes of success in their sporting present and future, a fact that added symbolic complexity to the act of making purchase decisions. This exercise also allowed us to notice the degree to which some brands were very prevalent in these users’ closets; and how the users themselves were not conscious of this until we pointed it out to them. This fact gave the brand a clearer picture of their competition, and more importantly why it is that people respond so well to some of their competitors’ strategies.
Finally, by looking at users’ engagement with their sports, we were able to realize to what degree cultural differences should drive strategy. For instance, we found out that basketball culture is significantly different in China and the United States, despite both markets sharing a significant amount of love for the NBA and American basketball stars. These cultural differences indeed have an impact on the clothes people wear to play basketball (and what they purchase), but they also determine how people who play sports perceive the sporting world surrounding them, a fact that will be used to make informed brand sponsorship decisions.
What does this mean for brands?
By focusing on knowing their user better, by knowing more about their hopes and desires, and how clothing and brands play a role in their identities, we found out who these people are as human beings and agents of culture. This approach allowed us to provide insights that would not have been apparent if we saw culture as being disconnected from the actual practices, emotions and habits of individual people. Using this approach allowed us to help the brand create momentum to drive their growth in ways that were innovative, disruptive, and without betraying their identity as a brand.
There are important opportunities to be found by better understanding culture. But culture is not something that can be read like a magazine or a book, with information that is static; culture is in constant flow, and this flow reflects what is happening in people’s everyday lives, their dreams and aspirations, as well as the transformations taking place in the society in which they live. Because of our methods and sociocultural expertise, BAMM was able to provide insights that opened new opportunities for the brand. We did so by helping them make culture-informed decisions in the present, as well thinking of their products, communications and strategies for the future.